A Letter to my mom

I spent a long time thinking about this topic, how to approach it, and how to write about it. I worried about whether or not I would offend people, or if what I am saying makes sense. In the end, the only relationship and experience I can write about is between my mother and I. I hope that this letter can help people, particularly white Americans with children of color, understand more about how one transnational, transracial, Chinese American adoptee feels about the state of our nation.

__________________________

Dear Mom,

We just finished our conversation about Charlottesville, and it was a lot. Speaking about race with you can be exhausting and even a waste of time. It can be frustrating, especially when you tell me that I shouldn’t get mad. But, how can I not? How can I not be angry and hurt and betrayed when there are white supremacists that walk through the streets telling me that my life does not matter. How can I not fear for my life when there are men and women who say that I do not belong in their America when I did not come here by choice? How do I say that another white person is who brought me to their America? You brought me here.

You tell me it’s better to pick and choose my battles, and that people will not listen to me when I am angry. This is probably true. As a woman, as an Asian American woman, my voice will often go unheard more often than yours. This is why I need you to speak up for me. I need you to take up some of the battles for me. And sometimes, you have. When I was younger, you told me a story about how when you went to church with me when I was a baby; a pastor had said the word “Gook.” You told me how that shook you to your core. You said that in church, it was one of the only spaces you felt you could let your guard down. You told me that space was violated. A few weeks later, you interrupted a church meeting, with all white men, and said that you had gotten a pastor a present. That present was a dictionary, and you told him that he should learn better words and that he should be ashamed.

When I brought this up, you looked ssurprizedthat I remembered. I also remembered how a few months ago, you told your older friends that they shouldn’t say Indians, but rather Native Americans. It is moments like these, that means the most to me. It is moments like these, which are what make me proud most proud of you. However, there are also moments when I am ashamed. You will make comments, intentionally or not, that are often racist.

One thing that has affected me my entire life has been your comments about the color of my skin. You would joke and say, “you look like you have been working in the rice paddy fields all day.” You would tell me that you ruined my skin and that I used to be a cream color. When I came home for the first time after my semester in the North East, you had commented how light I had gotten. You expressed happiness, but I thought that I looked sick. I didn’t believe that I radiated the way I did when I was out in the sun.

Having you, a white American whose ancestry reaches back to the American Revolution, as my mom has taught me a lot of things, and I know that I have shown you a lot of things. You now listen to what I have to say and take into consideration about the world around us. You use the correct pronouns for my friends, and you catch yourself when you’re about to say something homophobic. I don’t expect you to march in the streets. But I do expect you to talk to your friends. I expect you not only stand up for me; I expect you to stand up to any form of bigotry. I love you, and you are my hero in so many ways. Probably in more ways than I have ever articulated to you, but this does not mean I cannot be critical of you as you are critical of me. You are my mom, and you will always be my mom. Do better. Be better.

 

Love,
Your radical little girl

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like daddy like son

Cont. of “The One”

Sometimes Harold likes to take a walk around the block. He notices that Mrs. Lee’s garden is in full bloom and that baby birds are learning to fledge. He sees Mr. Wilson’s dogs lay in the sun. Sandy isn’t outside, but that’s okay. She’s probably out with her mama grocery shopping. Maybe when they get back, Harold can go over for some ice cream. Ms. Armstrong was always so kind and always smelled nice. Harold wished that he had a mom like that.

When Harold asked his daddy how he was born, his daddy always tells him he was born out of pure love. When Harold asks where his mama is, his daddy always lowers himself to eye level and places his right pointer finger on Harold’s chest and say that she’s right there in his heart. There are pictures of her and his father around the house. They’re happy and smiling. Harold thinks that his daddy should smile like that more often, but he doesn’t know how.

Harold notices that his father looks at Sandy’s mama in a funny way. Frank crinkles his nose and always comments that the Lord don’t make them the same no more. Harold asks his daddy what he means by that, and his father looks down filled with sad eyes.

“Well, your mama was an angle. Complete angel. That lady over there is no good. No husband and no one to take care of her and that girl over there. It’s a wonder how she’s able to afford that house over there. She’s probably a slut.”

Harold doesn’t know what a slut is, but he knows that it’s not good. Suddenly, he doesn’t like the way that Ms. Armstrong smells. She’s always wearing those low cut dresses and wearing too much makeup. Harold hopes that Sandy doesn’t grow up to be like her mom, but maybe it’s too late.

“Your Mama is a slut!”

“NO, SHE’S NOT!”

Sandy slapped Harold across the face and ran into her house. They haven’t spoken in a few days, but Harold knows she’ll come around. Every time they get in a fight, all he has to do is keep following her around until she gives in. He pushes her to the ground because that’s how boys are told to let girls know they like them. Maybe he’ll just go over and pretend to like Ms. Armstrong to save Sandy. After all, if there’s no man in the house, Harold thinks, who’s going to keep Sandy in line?

Trains

Watching the yellow train pass by just as soon as she made it to the platform, Sarah shrugged in defeat. Puffing a little air out of her mouth to blow a lock of hair off of her face she was reminded of her motto: never run for any man or any form of public transportation. And 96% of the time, she followed that rule. Gazing around at the crowded platform, she let herself be absorbed into the horde of commuters. After a few bumps, she found herself against a cool concrete wall that came up right below her chest. It served to protect anyone who might fall between the divide of the platform and rest of the terminal. Turning her body away from the crowd, she let her arms dangle off of the ledge of the concrete wall and rested her chin upon it. The objects were the usual things that you would see abandoned and pushed off to the side: a plastic water bottle, a crushed paper cup, an empty chip bag, a blue ribbon, a condom? Sarah looked closer and examined the long translucent tubular shape. How did a condom outside of its wrapper end up here? Sarah thought for a moment, knowing that she had a decent chunk of time to waste until the next yellow train arrived (approximately 12 minutes), and began to think about how wrapper-less condom could have ended up there.

Sally’s body was damp with perspiration due to the unseasonably warm weather. The hem of her ocean blue checkered uniform clung to the back of her thighs. However, despite this, her hair was pulled up neatly in a high pony tail, and a navy blue ribbon tied into a bow held it up. Not a single strand was out of place. She cradled her astronomy notebook in the nook of her left arm and prepared her subway ticket to tap into the terminal. “HEY SALLY!” she could hear Johnny yell, 20 feet away. She rolled her eyes and breathed in deeply in preparation for whatever Johnny had in store for her today. She paused right before the gate and watched him push his way through the crowd to get to her. If she was damp, Johnny was outright soaked. His tie was loose, and there were large wet patches all over his white button down shirt, no longer crisp from the beginning of the day. 10 feet before he reached her, Sally turned to continue her way through the gate and waited for him to rummage through his messenger bag to get his ticket out.

 

“Hey, how’s it going, Sally O’Malley?” Johnny asked, winded.

“You know I hate it when you say, O’Malley. It’s not even my last name.” Sally retorted.

“Yeah, but you know it rhymes. Hey, guess what I found last night in my dad’s dresser?” he asked reaching into his bag before she could guess.

Between his pointer and middle finger, was a shiny wrapper with serrated edges. “Durex” was written all over the package and a prominent circle protruded out.

“You did not steal a condom from your father!” exclaimed Sally.

“I did” he smiled mischievously. “Don’t you want to see it?”

Johnny took the wrapper between his teeth and tugged on it until it tore. Clear liquid oozed out as he took out the ring from the pouch.

“It’s not as long as I was expecting it to be…” he said as he examined the ring.

“You’re supposed to stretch it out” Sally replied with her face scrunched up.

Together they pulled the condom apart, Johnny holding onto the stiffer ring structure and Sally pulling the tip out. They take a moment and look at the stretched condom.

“The Yellow Train is approaching the platform. Please step back and let passengers exit the doors before you enter the train.”

“Oh shoot!” Sally yelled, “That’s my train!” in a hurry, she tugged the condom from Johnny’s hand by accident and ran to the platform. Realizing she was running with a moist condom through the station, she flung it into the air hoping it wouldn’t hit anyone in the face. Her hair began to loosen from the tight pony tail, and with one last stride, she was able to jump onto the train before the doors closed, but not without losing her long navy blue ribbon that now lay limply on the floor outside of the train. A man in a black suit stepped on it while he was shouting loudly into his phone.

 

When Sarah was satisfied with her story, she looked up only to see a little girl staring at her from the window of a yellow train departing from the platform.

The One

Frank met Linda on a warm summer day at the local pool. Well, met isn’t the correct word. He saw her. He saw her from behind the wheel of his 1976 Jeep Cherokee. Her hair was longer then, legs leaner, soft porcelain skin. She had a youthful glow. Linda stood atop of a lifeguard stand, pointing at a bratty boy with sandy hair and bright blue swim trunks. It was then he knew—he had found the one.

It took several weeks of talking to himself in the mirror before he could introduce himself. He would stand there, shoulders back, and run his hand through his thinning hair line. There was nothing particularly handsome, but there wasn’t anything particularly damaging. Frank knew that he was an average man, but average was good. Average meant that he could just blend in. Frank enjoyed being able to blend it

Linda was the opposite. She was the life of the party, and although she didn’t have a very pretty face, all of the boys would crowd around her. Linda was eighteen and fresh out of high school. She hadn’t noticed Frank at first. He was just another older man who would come and lay out in the sun and doze off. Then, one day when she was switching out with Franny, Frank approached her. It was strange at first, but she took a liking to him. His eyes were soft and kind, and his voice was never raised. He was safe.

The two went to drive-in movies, shared milkshakes, swam in the shallow waters off the Florida Keys. They talked about the birds and the way the clouds moved across the sky. They talked about sea shells and the salt that collected on the back of leaves on white mangroves. They talked about how she felt stifled by her family and how she was never going to turn out like her mom.

Lately, Linda has been looking rather dull. Her hair has been shaved off, and her skin looks sickly. Scabs encrust her wrists and ankles. They fall off prematurely, and blood drips down onto the floor. Has it been several weeks, or months, or years? She’s not sure anymore. Her body aches, and she’s not sure if the last period she missed was because of the physical stress or if she’s pregnant again. She prays that she’s not—she doesn’t even know what happened to her last.

Frank is happy. He has a wife and a child, and there’s nothing more in the world he can ask for. Work has been steady, and although Linda gets on his case now and then, nothing can come between the love they have for one another. Afterall, he always knew she was the one.

 

8.12.17